Electoral College 101:
How does it work?
Why Did the Founders Create the Electoral College?
The term “Electoral College” is not used in the Constitution.
The term developed over time and came into use in the early
Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution refers to “electors”,
describes their role, and the process by which they vote and
the votes are counted.
The Founding Fathers lacked confidence in the voters. They
did not think voters (even though the country was much
smaller at the time) would have enough information to vote
intelligently for such an important office.
Framers also believed the system reflected the system of
federalism by giving an important role to the states.
Provided for the indirect election of the president.
12th Amendment
Ratified on June 15, 1804 after the Election of 1800. It
made changes to the Constitution’s original provisions
regarding electors.
Prior to this amendment, each elector had two votes,
thus encouraging parties to run two candidates for
president, with the intent that these candidates would
finish first (becoming president) and second (becoming
vice-president) in the election.
The 12th Amendment separated the elections for
President and Vice-President, but the fact that the same
electors vote for both continues to preserve the running
mate system.
How many Electoral Votes do states have?
The number of electoral votes a state has is determined by the
following “equation”:
# of Senators + # of Representatives = # of Electoral Votes
-- States with the largest populations have most electoral votes.
-- The number of electoral votes changes every ten years as the number
of Representatives changes (based on the census).
-- Currently a total of 538 electoral votes. Even the District of
Columbia gets 3 electoral votes. 270 are needed to win!
-- 48 states have a winner-takes-all system for the electoral votes. If the
candidate gets the most votes, they get all the electoral votes.
-- Maine and Nebraska award their votes proportionately by House
district. In practice, the electoral votes of these states have not been
split -- the candidate who won the state won in every district.
Electoral College Map -- 2016
Who are the Electors? Who picks them?
Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the Constitution says that U.S.
Senators, U.S. Representatives, or any “person holding an
Office of Trust or Profit under the United States.” CANNOT be
The Fourteenth Amendment says that those who have engaged
in insurrection or rebellion against the United States or given
aid and comfort to its enemies CANNOT serve as electors.
State legislatures decide how electors will be chosen. The
process varies from state to state.
Political parties usually pick electors. They may be selected at a
state convention too. Being picked as an elector is often a
“thank you” for working hard for the party. Third-party or
independent candidates usually select their electors themselves.
Do Electors have to vote for the candidate
who won the state’s popular vote?
The Constitution does not say electors must vote
according to results of the popular vote.
26 states and D.C. have laws “binding” electors to vote
for the candidate who won the state’s popular vote.
State political parties also have rules requiring electors
to pledge to support the party’s nominee. The Supreme
Court has held that a party can require such a pledge.
Most electors vote for their state’s winner—more than
99% over the course of U.S. history. However, socalled “faithless” electors do pop up from time to time
(those who do not vote with the winner of popular
What happens after Election Day?
When a voter casts a ballot on Election Day, they are
choosing electors to vote on their behalf. When the
polls close, local officials gather election results and
send them to the state capital.
On the Monday after the second Wednesday in
December, electors meet in their state capitals and
cast their ballot for president.
Then, electors complete the “certificate of vote” and
a copy is sent to the President of the Senate (the
sitting Vice President) by certified mail.
What happens after Election Day?
4) Staff members of the Vice President collect the
Certificates of Vote from the states and prepare them
for the joint session of the Congress- mandated by
the 12th amendment.
5) Congress assembles in joint session to count the
electoral votes and declare the winners of the
election. The session is ordinarily required to take
place on January 6 in the calendar year immediately
following the meetings of the presidential electors.
6) The winner is declared…who takes the oath of office
on January 20 at noon.
Bush vs Gore Election
Popular Vote:The popular vote was won by Gore-Lieberman by 543,816
Bush-Cheney - 50,460,110
Gore-Lieberman - 51,003,926
Nader-LaDuke - 2,883,105
Buchanan-Foster - 449,225
Browne-Olivier - 384,516
Electoral Vote: The electoral vote was won by Bush-Cheney by 5 votes.
Bush-Cheney – 271
Gore-Lieberman - 266
Nader-LaDuke - 0
Buchanan-Foster - 0
Browne-Olivier – 0
● The last time the president won the electoral vote without winning the popular vote
was in 1888.
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